I attended the Gandhi Foundation’s annual lecture 2017 given by the wonderful Satish Kumar who exuded light.
Satish began his talk by describing the Gandhian ideal of service. This ideal had persuaded him to leave his Jain monastery at the age of 18 and come into the world. Because Gandhi taught that spirituality is not found in rituals but service. We can make our work spiritual by adopting an attitude of service e.g. a teacher serving his pupils, a doctor serving her patients, a politician serving his constituents. In this way we bring together our profession and our vocation. Earning money and making a living is fine, but if we make our work an act of service then it becomes a spiritual practice. Gandhi showed how politics can be spiritual.
The irony is that if we are just trying to looking after ourselves then we will feel miserable, whereas if we try to serve others then we will experience joy. [To quote another spiritual teacher, “if you want to be selfish be wisely selfish”]. The best way we can help ourselves is to help others.
Whereas other political ideologies such as socialism or utilitarianism just think in terms of improving human society and “the greatest good for the greatest number”, Gandhi proposed the ideal of Sarvodaya meaning ‘the upliftment of the whole’. The ‘whole’ includes all species, and all people – we need to benefit all, not just the majority.
We need to benefit all species: elephants, lions, snakes, earthworms. Satish spoke movingly about the work that earthworms perform (without wages, holidays, or going on strike!) of turning the earth, making it soft and friable. Apparently each earthworm turns 6 tons of soil in its lifetime. When he sees an earthworm in his garden he thanks it.
We need an economy that is based on valuing work, on growing food, on community, on crafts, on arts. The word eco- in economy and ecology comes from the Greek word ‘ecos’ meaning ‘house’, and their real eco-meaning is about building and respecting our abode, the earth. However, our current economic system does not do this, instead it is a ‘moneconomy’, all about increasing the amount of money without regard for the creation of actual value. Activities such as prostitution, and police responses to terrorism all add up in the moneconomy but they do not really add value to our abode. The true economy should measure welfare, and there is potentially no limit to this because it is a function of the human soul, individually and communally. There is no real separation between individual and community: “I am because you are”.